Bath Covered Bridge, Bath New Hampshire
Bath, New Hampshire was already a small industrial center in the 1790s before there was any bridge. The town voted in November 1793 to bridge the Ammonoosuc River "over the mill-pond above Mr. Sargent's and Esq. Hurd's mills." Built in 1794, the cost was still given in the British system as 110 pounds total, which equaled $366.66. It lasted until taken out by an ice jam, but the town voted in 1806 to replace it, and this time the cost was quoted in American dollars at $1,000. A third bridge, built in 1820, was washed out in February 1824 and again replaced. By 1827, repairs were already needed, and Caleb Hunt was selected to supervise the project. The fate of this fourth bridge is unknown.
A town meeting in March 1830 discussed rebuilding the bridge at Bath village, but postponed action, probably because of expenses just incurred during construction of the Bath-Haverhill Bridge at Woodsville. In March 1831, the town meeting returned to the question. Voters approved $1,400 to cover contracts for stonework that apparently had already been negotiated and decided to proceed with construction of the two abutments and two center piers. George Wetherell was chosen as town agent for the project, but most regrettably there is no record anywhere of the builder's name. The 1831 meeting also resulted in a vote to procure timber and have it delivered to the site over the upcoming winter. A special meeting later in the year on November 16 voted $400 more towards construction of the stonework; evidently, construction was already in progress and the available funds had been used up.
The March 1832 town meeting raised a final $1,500 to complete Bath Bridge, and this was probably for the wooden trusswork. Total cost was therefore around $3,300. The work seems to have been completed to satisfaction, because the March 1833 town meeting chose William V. Hutchins as agent "to prosecute all persons who shall violate the law in crossing said Bridge, & to procure Bords [sic] lettered and placed at the ends of said Bridge giving notice of a fine for those who violate the law in crossing." A sign on the west portal still warns of a ONE DOLAR FINE TO DRIVE ANY TEAM FASTER THAN A WALK ON THIS BRIDGE. Such signs were still common on New England covered bridges well into the twentieth century. The "walk," of course, refers to a horse's gait; a gallop or a trot sets up a regular vibration capable of shaking truss bridge members loose and causing serious damage.
In the nineteenth century, winter transportation was by sleigh or sled over frozen snow. Roads were rolled to make them passable; snow plowing and removal did not begin until the 1920s after automobiles arrived. Covered bridges were obstacles in such a transportation system. They were covered to keep the wooden trusses from rotting, not to keep the snow off in the winter. Bath town meeting minutes of the 1830s show that the highway surveyor (i.e. road commissioner) of the village district had to oversee snow being placed on the bridge deck in winter and cleaned off come spring.